Wyatt Cenac put on one of the ten best shows I saw at the Just for Laughs festival last year. It was sometimes sad, sometimes silly, but always hilarious, and much of that same material appears on his excellent new album, Furry Dumb Fighter. You should probably go out of your way to listen to it.
Cenac does a kind of magic trick here. He delivers biting, unsparing political commentary about race and how we treat women in America, without ever losing his cool or dropping his calm demeanor. He’s able to talk pointedly about heavy topics while still sounding like a laidback guy having a friendly conversation. He’s neither dramatic nor dismissive, avoiding outrage even while talking about something as outrageous as being arrested as a teenager when his own car was broken into. The delivery contrasts greatly with the gravity of much of the material, and that lends it more power—he seems resigned instead of angry, which feels more personal and more realistic.
Cenac was raised in the South, and his bit about how unfortunate it is that something as racist as the Confederate flag could look so cool reminds me of one of the more common statements I hear about the flag down here in the South, even from fellow liberals. Yeah, it’s racist and hateful and has no place in today’s society, but damn, it’s such a well-designed, awesome looking flag, and that’s the kind of contradictory observation that perfectly fits Cenac’s relaxed delivery. It’s a lead-in to a bit how bad guys tend to have cool stuff, and he quickly compares the Confederate flag to the Nazis and ISIS. It’s an important, thoroughly appropriate comparison, and an increasingly common one, but considering how ubiquitous the flag was in pop culture just a few decades ago (when Cenac was a child, one of the most popular shows on TV had a car that looked like this, and one of the biggest wrestlers in his hometown thought it was okay to dress like this), it’s still surprising to hear it said so plainly and so casually and without controversy.
It climaxes in an extended talk about race in America, where he utters a classic line in response to Bill Cosby being exposed as a serial rapist: “Whatever heinous thing the most successful black man in America can get away with, 15 average white guys have done worse.” These last few tracks, where he weighs OJ Simpson against Robert Durst and compares rape to a pro bowl quarterback, are as smart and important as any stand-up you’ll hear this year. Cenac might never sound all that angry or urgent, but he can still be downright devastating on Furry Dumb Fighter.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He wastes a lot of time on Twitter.